Ellen Nakashima

Senate bill would impose new privacy limits on accessing NSA’s surveillance data

Sens Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) released their bipartisan proposal to renew a powerful surveillance authority for collecting foreign intelligence on US soil, but with a new brake on the government’s ability to access the data. The bill would require government agencies to obtain a warrant before reviewing communications to or from Americans harvested by the National Security Agency under the surveillance authority known informally as Section 702. The measure stands little chance of passage.

President Trump asked intelligence chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence

President Donald Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

President Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the President. President Trump sought the assistance of Coats and Rogers after FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 20 that the FBI was investigating “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Trump’s conversation with Rogers was documented contemporaneously in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official, according to the officials. It is unclear if a similar memo was prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to document Trump’s conversation with Coats. Officials said such memos could be made available to both the special counsel now overseeing the Russia investigation and congressional investigators, who might explore whether Trump sought to impede the FBI’s work.

DOJ debating charges against WikiLeaks members in revelations of diplomatic, CIA materials

Federal prosecutors are weighing whether to bring criminal charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, taking a second look at a 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents and investigating whether the group bears criminal responsibility for the more recent revelation of sensitive CIA cyber-tools, apparently.

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama decided not to charge WikiLeaks for revealing some of the government’s most sensitive secrets — concluding that doing so would be akin to prosecuting a news organization for publishing classified information. Justice Department leadership under President Trump, though, has indicated to prosecutors that it is open to taking another look at the case, which the Obama administration did not formally close. It is not clear whether prosecutors are also looking at WikiLeaks’ role in 2016 in publishing e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John D. Podesta, which US officials have said were hacked by the Russian government.

FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page

The FBI obtained a secret court order in 2016 to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other US officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials. This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

FBI Director Comey confirms probe of possible coordination between Kremlin and Trump campaign

FBI Director James B. Comey acknowledged that his agency is conducting an investigation into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign in a counterintelligence probe that could reach all the way to the White House and may last for months. At the same time, Comey repeatedly refused to answer whether specific individuals close to the president had fallen under suspicion of any criminal wrongdoing, “so we don’t wind up smearing people” who may not be charged with a crime.

The extraordinary disclosure came near the beginning of a sprawling, 5.5 hour public hearing by the House Intelligence Committee, the panel’s first into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. The FBI traditionally does not disclose the existence of an investigation, “but in unusual circumstances, where it is in the public interest,” Comey said, “it may be appropriate to do so.” Comey also said he was authorized by the Justice Department to confirm the existence of the wide-ranging probe into Russian interference in the electoral process.

Justice Department charges Russian spies and criminal hackers in Yahoo intrusion

The Justice Department announced the indictments of two Russian spies and two criminal hackers in connection with the heist of 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014, marking the first US criminal cyber charges ever against Russian government officials. The indictments target two members of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, and two hackers hired by the Russians. The charges include hacking, wire fraud, trade secret theft and economic espionage, according to officials. The indictments are part of the largest hacking case brought by the United States.

The charges are unrelated to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the move reflects the US government’s increasing desire to hold foreign governments accountable for malicious acts in cyberspace.

How hard is it to get an intelligence wiretap? Pretty hard.

Wiretaps on Americans in foreign intelligence investigations are not easy to get. And if you’re a candidate for president, it’s even harder.

That’s the experience of current and former senior US officials who expressed disbelief at President Trump’s accusation — leveled without any evidence — that President Barack Obama had the candidate wiretapped at Trump Tower before the November election. Senior officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because such matters are classified, said that there had been no wiretap on President Trump.

US counterintelligence officials are examining possible ties between Russia and Trump associates

US counterintelligence officials are sifting through intercepted communications and financial data as part of a wider look at possible ties between the Russian government and associates of President-elect Donald Trump, officials said. But while it has been clear for months that a broad investigation is underway, what remains murky — even to lawmakers receiving closed briefings — is its scope and target. It is unclear if the intercepts being examined have any connection to the Trump campaign. But the investigation adds to the uncertainty surrounding Trump’s relationship with Russia even as he is sworn in as president. U.S. intelligence agencies have already concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has been under FBI scrutiny for some time, including for allegations of illegal financial dealings in Ukraine, current and former U.S. officials said. Manafort has done business in Russia and Ukraine. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, CIA and the National Security Agency, which intercepts phone calls, emails and other electronic communications of foreigners overseas, are also involved in the probe.

Top US intelligence official: Russia meddled in 2016 election through hacking and spreading of propaganda

The country’s top intelligence official said that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign consisted of hacking, as well as the spreading of traditional propaganda and “fake news.” “Whatever crack, fissure, they could find in our tapestry . . . they would exploit it,” said Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on foreign cyber threats, and especially Russian hacking and interference in the campaign.

The hearing came as President-elect Donald Trump has loudly and repeatedly voiced skepticism that the Kremlin was orchestrating the effort, directly clashing with the view of the US intelligence community and the committee’s chairman, Sen John McCain (R-AZ). Every American “should be alarmed by Russia’s attacks on our nation,” Sen McCain said at the opening of the packed hearing. “There is no national security interest more vital to the United States of America than the ability to hold free and fair elections without foreign interference,” he said. Sen Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC) asked Director Clapper if he was ready to be challenged by President-elect Trump, and Director Clapper said he is. Sen Graham also advised Trump, “Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people, you can be skeptical, but understand they’re the best among us and they’re trying to protect us.”

Obama administration announces measures to punish Russia for 2016 election interference

The Obama Administration announced sweeping new measures against Russia on Dec 29 in retaliation for what US officials have characterized as interference in 2016’s presidential election, ordering the expulsion of Russian “intelligence operatives” and slapping new sanctions on state agencies and individuals suspected in the hacks of US computer systems. The response, unveiled just weeks before President Barack Obama leaves office, culminates months of internal debate over how to react to Russia’s election-year provocations.

In recent months, the FBI and CIA have concluded that Russia intervened repeatedly in the 2016 election, leaking damaging information in an attempt to undermine the electoral process and help Donald Trump take the White House. Because Dec 29's announcement is an executive action, it can be undone by the next administration. President Obama also ejected 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposed sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services.